There’s a term I learned while studying story craft that is purely a function of television series called the “bottle episode” (TVtropes.org). Over the course of a given season, a TV show typically spends the majority of its budget on the opening episode and the closing episodes. A bottle episode is normally somewhere in the middle of the season and it’s on a single location (so the production company doesn’t have to spend money building a new set that week). The fifth episode of Netflix’s The Sandman, titled “24/7”, has to be one of the more terrifying bottle episodes I’ve ever come across, as John Burgess takes over a small-town diner and unleashes the full power of the Ruby on the unwitting patrons.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the fifth episode of Netflix’s The Sandman.
Full credit to David Thewlis and the other cast members of this episode, since the majority of it is spent with just them (although there are allusions made that the world outside the diner is affected by what transpires inside). John’s influence is benign at first but becomes increasingly malignant as the episode continues. Each of the diner patrons begin to lose control of themselves as their “lies” are stripped away bit by bit. Bette, the waitress, has dreams of writing but can’t manage it with her son home from college. Judy is reeling from a disastrous breakup with her lover Donna. Marsh, the cook, is dealing with his own issues regarding his sexuality. Garry and Kate are a married couple that have reached the point of casually sniping at each other. And Mark is an unemployed man hoping to land a job the same day.
As the episode continues, we see each beginning to act strangely, revealing things that they would normally keep secret, such as Marsh’s revelation that he’s engaging in a sexual relationship with Bette’s adult son; Kate and Garry revealing just how deeply unhappy they are in their relationship; and so on. It eventually culminates with everyone hooking up with another person (Garry and Marsh, Bette and Judy, Mark and Kate) as their inhibitions are stripped away piece by piece. All the while, John Burgess just watches them, satisfied in his own mad way with removing their “lies” so that they will be honest with each other and themselves. The weather outside grows darker and more ominous as the events unfold inside, indicating that the world outside is also suffering under the delusional whims of John.
Inevitably, violence ensues, with Mark killing Gary being the first blow. Soon enough, everyone else has either taken their own lives or maimed themselves. The Three-in-One make a reappearance, using the corpses of John’s victims to reveal his future: he will spend his days in the asylum he escaped from but not before capturing Morpheus and crushing his life in his own hands. It’s at this point that Morpheus makes his appearance, confronting the last son of the man who captured him nearly a century before. As Morpheus explains, what John sees as lies are just the dreams of the people he was affecting. The dreams of the individuals in the diner (and the world at large) inspire us to be better than we are and to hope for a better future. Each of the diner residents had dreams and aspirations but John, in his misguided attempt to foster “truth”, took away their hope, leaving them with nothing but despair.
The confrontation between John and Morpheus was handled rather well, save for the moment where John is being held in the palm of the hand of a giant Morpheus (the SFX for that shot were a bit too wonky for my taste). John manages to capture Morpheus within the Ruby, intent on becoming the new Dream Lord, but then John crushes the Ruby. In the process of destroying the Ruby, it not only releases Morpheus but also releases the power the Dream Lord stored within the Relic, returning Morpheus to his full power. But rather than be a vindictive entity, Morpheus knows that John was simply corrupted by the Ruby. I agree with that assessment, since it has been shown that much of John’s mental instability is from how Ethel raised him as well as his consistent exposure to the Ruby. Rather than kill John, Morpheus returns him to the asylum John escaped from and places the Burgess scion in a peaceful sleep (which is a far better state than Morpheus left John’s brother in the first episode). As Dream looks out over a scene of destruction caused by John’s misuse of the Ruby, we see for the first time Morpheus’s sibling Desire make an appearance (played by the delightfully devilish Mason Alexander Park), hinting that Desire has a much bigger role to play in the coming episodes.
Despite spending the majority of the episode with a small cast of characters, I enjoyed “24/7” quite a bit. The Sandman is at its heart a story of hope overcoming despair and we see that in how Morpheus describes what our dreams are truly capable of. Hope springs eternal is an old adage that I’m rather fond of and while this episode has a truly bittersweet ending, there is hope found at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. I’m excited to see where the story goes from here now that the relics have been obtained and Morpheus is returned to his full power.
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